Whistler offers qualified invitation to WEF 

Whistler will invite the World Economic Forum to hold its annual meeting here, on Whistler’s terms.

Whether the WEF accepts those terms remains to be seen.

The main condition of the invitation is that the meeting be held in late spring or fall, rather than January, the time when the World Economic Forum has always held its annual meeting.

The conditional invitation came after nearly two months of often heated public debate, including a three and a half hour special meeting of council Monday which attracted about 150 people to Millennium Place.

Nearly 40 people spoke Monday, some making passionate, persuasive arguments for and against the WEF coming to Whistler. The speakers included business owners, long-time residents, part-time residents, young people, ski instructors and people with young families.

Among the issues were security, the forum’s impact on businesses, what business Whistler is in, the structure of the WEF, and what hosting the annual meeting could do for the Olympic bid and future business for the resort.

One of the fundamental concerns was the process by which the community was consulted and the decision to invite the WEF was made. Following Monday’s meeting Van Powel, who helped organize a petition against the WEF meeting, was involved in putting up a Web site about the WEF and took out newspaper ads regarding the forum, seemed satisfied with the compromise.

"You saw what happened here: The community came out and spoke. And we changed things. We changed the democratic process here in Whistler.

"It was exciting and it was wonderful," Powel said. "The level of debate was inspiring."

There wasn’t a public process until the March 4 council meeting, when Whistler councillors publicly discussed the forum for the first time. At that meeting council decided, after some acrimonious debate, to delay making a decision in order to allow time for public input.

Since then the local papers have been inundated with letters to the editor regarding the World Economic Forum. More than 1,300 people signed a petition opposing the meeting, and a coalition of businesses began a counter campaign in support of bringing the meeting to Whistler.

Councillor Ken Melamed said the process has been convoluted but there has been a process because the people of Whistler forced one.

Speaking at the council meeting Monday, Powel began by saying, "Nothing I have to say matters. And nothing (Chateau Whistler general manager) Dave Roberts or (Tourism Whistler president) Suzanne Denbak have to say matters. What matters is the 1,300 names on this petition."

Powel told council the people of Whistler are not apathetic, they want to be consulted – but that’s only half the equation. Council accepting the petition is the other half of the equation.

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